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Newsline - June 19, 2001




PUTIN UPBEAT ABOUT MEETING WITH BUSH

President Vladimir Putin told American journalists during a 2 1/2 hour interview that U.S. President George W. Bush proved to be "a very attentive listener" and "a nice person to talk to," AP reported on 18 June. He said there is "a very high level of trust between the two of us," even though there are differences about Chechnya and ABM. With regard to the ABM treaty, he said that were it to be "thrown away," then "automatically START I and START II are thrown in the trash immediately." He also said that he does not believe that Bush's proposed missile defense shield will ever work: "It's like a bullet hitting a bullet." Putin also said that his years in the KGB taught him "patriotism and a love of country." Meanwhile, following a telephone call to Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, Putin said that both leaders feel they can do business with Bush. PG

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS, MEDIA OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE ON SUMMIT

Russian Security Council aide Igor Sergeev said on 18 June that the summit between Putin and Bush in Ljubljana "exceeded expectations," ITAR-TASS reported. Other government officials and Duma deputies were equally enthusiastic. The media reflected this view as well. "Izvestiya" reported that the session showed that Russia and the U.S. "are no longer enemies" but rather "allies after a fashion." "Moskovskii komsomolets" said that the result of the meeting is that "the severe strains in Russian-American ties over the last year were overcome." And it added that European fears of "a new, mini-cold war were not borne out." PG

PUTIN SAYS DIALOGUE CAN SOLVE ALL PROBLEMS

President Putin told a group of ambassadors presenting their credentials on 18 June that he believes "there are no problems, no matter how difficult they seem, that cannot be addressed through dialogue and solved," Russian agencies reported. He said Russian foreign policy is directed toward "broadening ties with all countries while strictly observing equal rights, territorial integrity, and sovereignty." Such an approach, he added, "answers in full measure the interests of forming a stable and predictable world order." PG

PUTIN, IMF'S FISCHER DON'T EXCLUDE LOANS TO RUSSIA IN 2003

Putin received visiting International Monetary Fund Deputy Director Stanley Fischer on 18 June, Russian agencies reported. The two discussed future cooperation between Moscow and the IMF and explicitly said that they do not exclude the possibility that Russia may need and receive a new loan in 2003, the year in which its largest foreign debt payments are due. PG

PUTIN SAID TO HAVE SUCCEEDED IN MARGINALIZING EXTREME RIGHT

According to an article in "Obshchaya gazeta," No. 24, President Putin has successfully marginalized both the old and new radical nationalist groups by adopting many of their patriotic slogans for his own purposes. As a result, the paper said, "the time of the radical nationalists is over." Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 40, sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii said that the pro-Kremlin youth organization "Walking Together" is helping Putin put a nationalist and patriotic cover over his program that "is not patriotic and will not gain widespread support." But Sergei Yastrzhembskii, Putin's press aide, said on 18 June that Putin has stabilized political life in Russia and the country is no longer shaking as if it were on a volcano, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN URGED TO BACK NATIONALITY POLICY

Ramazan Abdulatipov, the head of the Assembly of Peoples of Russia and a member of the Federation Council, and Svetlana Smirnovoa, the deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Nationality Affairs, called on Putin not to try to save money by cutting support for nationality policy, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 June. They noted that the government's failure to provide any funding in this area in 1999 and 2000 is leading to the emergence of new ethnic tensions in the country. The two also appealed to members of the media to explain to Duma deputies why a polyethnic state needs a nationality policy. PG

GOREGLYAD SAID LIKELY TO REPLACE STROEV AS FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN

According to an analysis in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 June, Federation group leader Valerii Goreglyad is likely to become the speaker of the Federation Council after October when the current speaker, Yegor Stroev, runs for re-election as governor of Orel Oblast, an action that will preclude his future service in the upper house of parliament. Meanwhile, Goreglyad said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 16 June that he was once active in Komsomol politics and is still close to presidential administration deputy head Aleksandr Abramov. PG

FALLOUT FROM DUMA LAND DEBATE DEBACLE

Duma Deputy Chairman and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) head Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 18 June called for the replacement of Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev because the latter is a member of the Communist (KPRF) faction, Interfax reported. Zhirinovsky also called for the redistribution to other parties of committee chairmanships now held by the Communists. Seleznev, for his part, said he was shocked by the behavior of the Communists and Agrarians at the 16 June session, the news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001). Meanwhile, Agrarian Party President Mikhail Lapshin blamed the KPRF for the fact that the Duma approved what he called "a super-liberal" land code on first reading, the news agency said. Lapshin said the Communists could have succeeded in getting a much better bill if they had cooperated with the government in 1998. PG

DUMA, GOVERNMENT SPLIT ON PROFIT TAX CUT

The Duma Budget Committee wants to cut the tax on business profits from 35 percent to 23 percent, but the government wants it reduced only to 25 percent, Russian agencies reported on 18 June. Senior government officials have said they will resist any move to cut the tax rate below 25 percent. PG

GORBACHEV, TITOV AGREE TO COOPERATE IN MOSCOW

The Moscow branches of the Russian Unified Social Democratic Party led by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Russian Party of Social Democracy headed by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov have agreed to partnership in Moscow and Moscow Oblast, Interfax reported on 18 June. PG

DEMOCRATIC RUSSIA PREPARES TO REGISTER AS PARTY

According to a report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 June, the Democratic Russia group is preparing all the necessary documents to register as a political party sometime this fall. Ruslan Linkov, the leader of the DemRossiya branch in St. Petersburg, said, "rumors about the death of Democratic Russia are clearly exaggerated." PG

REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS SEEN SEEKING ALLIANCE WITH UNIONS

According to an article in "Vek," No. 23, regional governments have been "the first among influential political forces" to seek an alliance with labor unions. The paper suggested that this is part of a general realignment of political forces taking place under President Putin. PG

YABLOKO BEGINS WORK ON NUCLEAR WASTE REFERENDUM

Aleksandr Kusnetsov, a member of the Yabloko Central Council, has been named by that group to head the effort to conduct a countrywide referendum on the importation of nuclear wastes from abroad for processing and permanent storage, Interfax reported on 18 June. Meanwhile, "Finansovaya Rossiya" reported on 14 June that 22 regional leaders have already signaled their opposition to nuclear waste imports. PG

ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR EVEN REVENUE SPLIT AMONG MOSCOW, SUBJECTS, LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 18 June called for dividing tax revenues evenly among the federal government, the governments of regions and republics, and local administrations, Interfax reported. He also called for simplifying the tax code. PG

MOSCOW DIVIDED ON RATIFICATION OF KYOTO PROTOCOL

Aleksandr Bernitskii, the head of the Russian delegation to the Kyoto talks, said that Moscow would prefer not to ratify the environmental pact because its conditions "harm Russia and discriminate against its economic interests," gazeta.ru reported on 18 June. He said that Moscow will seek an alternative set of agreements. The website noted that this represents a shift in Moscow's position following Putin's meeting with U.S. President Bush. But the same day, the Duma Committee on Ecology adopted a recommendation that Russia accede to the Kyoto protocol even if the United States does not, Interfax reported. VY

MOSCOW PRAISES U.S. DECISION TO DROP TRANSIT VISA REQUIREMENT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Moscow welcomes Washington's 15 June decision to drop the requirement that Russians transiting the U.S. have transit visas, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yakovenko said that Russia is considering a reciprocal lifting of its requirement of transit visas for Americans passing through Russia. PG

TOBIN'S LAWYER FILES SECOND APPEAL

Lawyers for American exchange student John Tobin, who was convicted on drug charges, have filed a second appeal, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 18 June. Tobin was convicted in April of possession and distribution of illegal drugs and sentenced to 37 months in prison. Earlier this month, an appeals court reduced his sentence to 12 months. The lawyers told AP that they do not expect their client to be freed on appeal but rather hope that his sentence could be further reduced. PG

KALININGRAD SEEN AS TEST CASE FOR RUSSIA-EU TIES

Vladimir Mau, the chief of the economic reform working group of the Russian government, said in Kaliningrad on 18 June that the expansion of the European Union is no threat to Russia but that Russia-EU ties will largely depend on the mechanisms being developed for the Kaliningrad region, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the approach of the EU toward the Russian border is a powerful incentive for the development of the oblast. PG

DUMA OFFICIAL CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE ARMS SALES TO YUGOSLAVIA

General Andrei Nikolaev, who chairs the Duma Defense Committee, on 18 June called for selling Yugoslavia arms on favorable terms, Interfax reported. He said Moscow needs to take this step "immediately," but he stressed that the only arms Russia should sell to Belgrade are defensive ones. PG

IRANIAN FIRMS TO HELP REBUILD CHECHNYA

Roza Dzhabrailova, a member of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, has signed an agreement with the Iranian Engineering Consortium for Iranian firms to help reconstruct industrial and transport facilities in Chechnya, RTR television reported on 18 June. VY

KREMLIN AIDE DENIES RUSSIA HELPING IRAN'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM

Russian Security Council aide Sergeev said in Moscow on 18 June that Russian assistance to Iran cannot help Tehran build a nuclear weapon, AP reported. He said the light-water reactors Russia is helping to build in Iran cannot produce weapons-grade materials, and he added that these reactors are virtually the same as those the United States is helping North Korea construct. PG

RUSSIAN FIRMS INVEST IN COLUMBIA

Rosneft announced that it will invest in the Columbia Surorente oil field, Prime-TASS reported on 18 June. Meanwhile, a subsidiary of Russia's AvtoVAZ automaker has opened an assembly line for VAZ-212180 all-terrain vehicles in Bogota, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, on the same day, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu met with the heads of 15 Latin American diplomatic missions to discuss expanding cooperation, Interfax reported. PG

NEW SOLZHENITSYN WORK ON RUSSIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS TO BE RELEASED

In an interview to be published in "Moskovskie novosti" and reported by Interfax on 18 June, Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that he will formally release later this week the first volume of a history of Russian-Jewish relations, "Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995." The writer said that he has been working on this book over the last decade. He added that he has tried to give "both sides" of the story. PG

JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER DESECRATED IN PSKOV

As yet unidentified persons on 12-13 June destroyed or otherwise desecrated 43 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Velikie Luki in Pskov Oblast, Interfax reported on 18 June, citing a report by the Anti-Defamation League. Other hooligans broke the windows at a Jewish center and sent anonymous letters containing Nazi slogans to Jewish residents, the news service said. Meanwhile, the news agency reported that in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Far East, the first synagogue to be built to religious requirements is under construction. PG

COSSACKS OPPOSE BUYING AND SELLING OF LAND

Vladimir Gromov, the ataman of the Kuban Cossacks, said in Krasnodar that "anyone who comes to us to trade in Kuban land will find himself buried in it," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 June. PG

INDUSTRIAL GROWTH FIGURES REVISED UPWARD

The State Statistics Committee has revised upward its figures for industrial production growth in 2000 from 9.0 percent to 11.9 percent compared to 1999, Interfax reported. It also said that such growth during the first four months of 2001 as compared to the same period in 2000 was 5.6 percent and not the 3.8 percent reported earlier. PG

MOSCOW CITY REFUSES PERMIT FOR PROTEST BY COAL MINERS

The Moscow Mayor's Office on 18 June refused permission to coal miners to demonstrate in front of the government building on 19 June, ITAR-TASS reported. But the leaders of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Ministers and the All-Russia Confederation of Labor said they will march all the same, "If not tomorrow, then within a couple of days." PG

CHINESE IMMIGRATION DEBATED

Last week, the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy conducted a roundtable discussion on whether Chinese immigration into Russia will benefit or threaten the country, "Izvestiya" and "Vremya MN" reported on 16 June. Council President Sergei Karaganov and several academic specialists said that such immigration could only help the country. But officials from the Russian Far East said that it could lead to the loss of Russian control over those territories. PG

AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS RULE OUT STRIKE

Valerii Yezhov, the deputy general director for personnel of the State Corporation for the Organization of Air Traffic, said that Russian air-traffic controllers will not take part in a work stoppage on 19 June, Interfax reported. Trade union leaders said earlier that as many as 40 percent of the dispatchers/controllers would take part. PG

ONE NEW HIV CASE IN RUSSIAN ARMY EVERY DAY

According to Russian military health officials, one Russian soldier comes down with an HIV infection every day, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 June. But the officials said that underfunding means that they are not in a position to provide adequate treatment for its victims or for other soldiers who may need care. PG

DANILOV ACCUSES FSB OF USING PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 June, Valentin Danilov, a Russian scientist charged with selling secrets to China, said that the Federal Security Service (FSB) used psychological torture techniques in order to try to force him to confess. He said that as a result of his mistreatment, he remains "on the verge of a heart attack." On the same day, Interfax reported that the Duma Legal Affairs Committee has approved a draft bill making the use of torture to extract confessions a crime. PG

SENIOR FSB OFFICER PROVIDED COVER FOR ORGANIZED-CRIME GROUP

A Moscow military court has begun hearing the case of FSB Colonel Igor Kushnikov, who allegedly provided protective cover for the Golyanov organized-crime group, "Versiya," No. 24, reported. In addition, the charges allege that Kushnikov provided operational intelligence to the group to help them avoid problems with the authorities. VY

60-75 PERCENT OF ALL CRIMES REMAIN UNSOLVED

The Center for Assisting the Reformation of Criminal Law said that 60-75 percent of all crimes in Russia remain unsolved, "Inostranets," No. 20, reported. The center said that the actual percentage is even higher because "each year the law enforcement agencies shut their eyes to half of the murders committed." PG

FEWER THAN 1 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN PRISONERS PARDONED

Anatolii Pristavkin, the chairman of the Presidential Pardons Commission, told Interfax on 18 June that some 55,000 Russian prisoners have been pardoned since 1992, a figure he said amounts to only 0.6 percent of all prisoners held during that period. He said that is far lower than the European average of 10-15 percent. PG

KREMLIN ASSUMES CONTROL OF IMAGE CAMPAIGN

Presidential aide Yastrzhembskii has said that the presidential administration rather than the Foreign Ministry or the Media Ministry will be responsible for organizing the campaign to improve Russia's image abroad, RBK reported on 18 June. VY

LOCUSTS THREATEN CROPS, SHEEP IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Officials in Daghestan told ITAR-TASS on 18 June that swarms of locusts have attacked crops in northern regions of the republic and threaten both crops and the winter pastures of some 1.5 million sheep. Pesticide-spraying planes are seeking to block the spread of the locusts. PG

PUTIN PLEASED THAT PRIMORSKII KRAI 'ELECTION SAGA' IS OVER...

At a cabinet meeting on 18 June, Putin said: "Thank God the electoral saga in Primorskii Krai is over," Interfax reported. PG

...AS ANOTHER FIGURE COMPLAINS OF DEATH THREAT...

State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Viktor Cherepkov, whose name was struck from the ballot for the 17 June governor's race in Primorskii Krai, told reporters in Moscow on 18 June that someone from the team of winning candidate Sergei Darkin is planning to kill him, Interfax reported (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2001). According to Cherepkov, someone wants him dead because the Supreme Court may decide in favor of his lawsuit challenging his ejection from the race, which would invalidate the results of the election. Cherepkov said he has informed the Interior Ministry of the threat against his life and asked them to provide protection. According to RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent, the results in that city differed starkly from that of the region overall, with more than 60 percent of voters voting against all candidates; more than 20 percent for Gennadii Apanasenko, deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district; and 19 percent for Darkin. JAC

...AS VESHNYAKOV SAYS OVERTURNING OF RESULTS UNLIKELY

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told NTV on 18 June that despite the pending court actions, including Cherepkov's with the Supreme Court and another one in a local court against Darkin, a cancellation of the results of the gubernatorial election is unlikely. According to Veshnyakov, the norms laid out by election legislation were "fulfilled" in the krai. However, some of the nation's political leaders appear to disagree. Both Communist Party leader Zyuganov and Deputy Duma Speaker (Union of Rightist Forces) Irina Khakamada, declared that the fact that more than a third of the votes were against all casts doubt on the legitimacy of the process, Interfax reported. Zyuganov noted: "There was no fair election, the clan and the Mafia tore Primore into pieces." According to local legislation, the new governor-elect will assume office on 7 July. JAC

BIG, BIG BEAR THOUGHT TO BE ROAMING FAR EAST ISLAND

The paw prints of a gigantic bear have been discovered on the banks of the Firsovka River in Sakhalin Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 June. According to a local hunting official, Aleksandr Kostin, the paw print is some 35 centimeters long (14 inches) and 30 centimeters wide, which suggests that the bear weighs no less than 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds). Kostin, who has some 30 years of experience, said that he has only come across a bear of similar dimensions once before in the 1970s. Bears in the region typically weigh some 180-200 kilograms. JAC

PUTIN EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR CHECHEN WARS

Speaking in Moscow on 18 June, President Putin told U.S. journalists that Russia had been constrained to send troops into Chechnya in December 1994 to crush separatism and to prevent the annihilation of the republic's ethnic Russian population, AP reported. Putin further explained that the 1999 invasion was needed to put an end to atrocities committed against Christians, foreigners, and ethnic Russians. He again said that Chechnya will never be granted formal independence, nor will Islamic militants be allowed to use the region to launch terrorist attacks elsewhere within the Russian Federation. But at the same time he affirmed that it would be "counterproductive" for Russians to act as "occupiers" in Chechnya, and that "we don't intend to carry out repression." LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS DETAINED FOR MURDERING CHECHEN CIVILIANS

Also on 18 June, the pro-Moscow Chechen administration issued a statement saying that 19 Russian servicemen have been detained on suspicion of murdering civilians in Grozny, AP reported quoting Interfax. LF




ARMENIA, EU SEEK COMPROMISE ON NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

The second session of the Armenia-EU partnership committee, which took place in Yerevan on 15 June, focused on bilateral cooperation, how to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and the closure of Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power station, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Under an agreement signed with the EU in 1996, Yerevan pledged to close Medzamor by 2004, but over the past year Armenian officials have repeatedly declared that the plant could function safely for an additional five or 10 years, and that it cannot be closed until alternative generating capacity is in place. Medzamor covers up to 40 percent of Armenia's electricity needs. Energy Minister Karen Galustian told Armenian National Television on 16 June that if the EU insists that the original closure date is met then it must provide assistance to Armenia in meeting the resulting energy deficit. A group of EU experts will inspect the plant this fall. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONFIRMS TIMING OF MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS' MEETING

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian confirmed on 18 June that the U.S., Russian, and French representatives to the OSCE Minsk Group will meet in Malta on 22-24 June to discuss how to overcome the "difficulties" that have arisen in the Karabakh peace talks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001). LF

WAR VETERANS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF JAILED KARABAKH GENERAL

A group of Armenians who served as prominent military commanders during the Karabakh war has written on behalf of over 8,000 veterans of that conflict to Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian appealing for clemency for former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, Noyan Tapan reported on 18 June. Babayan was sentenced in February to 14-years imprisonment on charges of masterminding the abortive bid in March 2000 to assassinate Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Criticizing that sentence as "disgraceful," the war veterans affirmed their belief in Babayan's innocence. They also warned that "the war has not ended yet," and "the divided opinions [over Babayan's guilt] are a luxury which a small people cannot afford." Groong on 16 June cited the Armenian weekly "Iravunk" as reporting in its 15 June issue that a war veteran engaged in collecting signatures to the appeal on Babayan's behalf has been arrested. LF

SEPARATIST LEADER DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE IN AZERBAIJANI JAIL

Alikram Gumbatov, who was sentenced in 1996 to life imprisonment for having declared a separate Talysh-Mughan Republic in southeastern Azerbaijan three years earlier, declared a hunger strike in Baku's Gobustan prison on 15 June to protest the lack of ventilation and poor lighting in his cell, Turan reported on 18 June. LF

GEORGIA SAYS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH TURKEY NO THREAT TO ARMENIA

Speaking in Tbilisi on 18 June, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili rejected concerns voiced by his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian that Georgia's close military cooperation with Turkey could pose a threat to Armenia's security, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "Tbilisi will not take steps directed against Armenia," Prime News quoted Menagharishvili as saying. LF

ABKHAZIA DROPS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATING IN CONFIDENCE-BUILDING TALKS

During talks in Sukhum on 18 June with Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia, UN special representative for the Abkhaz conflict Dieter Boden succeeded in persuading the Abkhaz leadership to drop the conditions it set two months earlier for resuming participation in sessions of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council that promotes confidence-building measures between Georgia and Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Following the abduction of five Abkhaz army conscripts by Georgian guerrillas in April, Abkhazia had made continued participation in the work of the Coordinating Council contingent on the Georgian leadership's withdrawal of tacit support for the guerrillas' operations. The next meeting of the council will take place in July. LF

RUSSIA REFUSES U.S. ASSISTANCE TO CLOSE GEORGIAN BASES

Moscow has turned down an offer made last year by the U.S. to contribute $10 million toward the cost of closing Russian military bases in Georgia because it considers some paragraphs of the memorandum on that issue unacceptable, Caucasus Press quoted departing U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kenneth Spenser Yalowitz as saying in Tbilisi on 18 June. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said last month that it would cost Russia 4.3 billion ($140 million) to close the military facilities, and it could do so in under 15 years only if the West contributed toward the total costs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). LF

NEW RIGHT-WING PARTY TAKES SHAPE IN GEORGIA

The "New Faction" initially composed of former parliament deputies from the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia who split from that party last fall (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 39, 6 October 2000)) formalized the faction's transformation into a political party, named "New Right-Wingers," at that party's founding congress in Tbilisi on 15 June, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament deputy David Gamkrelidze, who was elected party chairman, said some 5,000 people have expressed an interest in membership. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT CONCERNED AT TB, CRIME AMONG YOUTH

At a special 15 June hearing on Kazakhstan's penitentiary system, deputies to the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) expressed concern at the growing incidences of tuberculosis among young people, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Reuters estimated last year that between 80,000-100,000 of Kazakhstan's 15 million population suffer from the disease, while Interfax reported in March that 4,000 people died of TB in Kazakhstan in 2000. Deputies also noted with alarm that the majority of the country's estimated 70,000 prison inmates are aged between 18-30. Ten percent of the prison population suffers from TB. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, CHINA AGREE ON RAILWAY CONSTRUCTION

Meeting on the sidelines of last week's Shanghai Forum summit, the transport ministers of Kyrgyzstan and China signed a memorandum on construction of a rail link from the western Chinese town of Kashgar via Torugart and Djalalabad to Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The railway will take some three-four years to build and will cost an estimated $1 billion. A further agreement is to be drafted specifying how those costs will be shared between the two sides. LF

TAJIK FIELD COMMANDER EXPLAINS MOTIVES FOR KIDNAPPING

Former field commander Rakhmon Sanginov told journalists in Dushanbe on 18 June that he took four police officials hostage last week in order to focus attention on what he termed official oppression of 13 former United Tajik Opposition members, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 June 2001). Sanginov released the policemen on 17 June. A Tajik army officer confirmed that Interior Ministry officials recently arrested some former opposition fighters under his command and announced that as a result he has decided to resign from the armed forces. LF

TURKMENISTAN INTRODUCES DRESS CODE FOR SCHOOL CHILDREN, STUDENTS

Beginning in September 2001, school children and students in Turkmenistan will be required to wear Turkmen national headdress regardless of their nationality, AFP reported on 18 June. Girls will be forbidden to wear miniskirts, dresses with high splits, or trousers. The restrictions are part of an official campaign to further awareness of national identity among the Turkmen. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES REPORTEDLY FORM ELECTORAL COMMISSION ONLY FROM PRO-LUKASHENKA PEOPLE...

Belarus's executive authority bodies are currently manning territorial electoral commissions that will count votes in the 9 September presidential elections. Correspondents of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 18 June that local executive bodies in the Minsk, Vitsebsk, Homel, and Brest regions selected for electoral commissions only people loyal to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, while refusing to include representatives from NGO's and opposition political parties. Belarus's electoral code, which gives the executive authorities the decisive role in the formation of electoral commissions, has been repeatedly criticized by the Belarusian opposition and international organizations as undemocratic and instrumental in potential election manipulations. According to RFE/RL correspondents, electoral commissions primarily include representatives from the pro-Lukashenka Belarusian Communist Party and the Patriotic Youth Union as well as from organizations of veterans. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION ACTIVIST WARNS AGAINST 'MASS FALSIFICATION SYSTEM'

Vyachaslau Siuchyk, an activist of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 18 June that the authorities rejected more than 600 candidates proposed by opposition parties for electoral commissions. "It is necessary to make both the democratic West and Belarusian society realize the danger contained in such a way of the formation of territorial electoral commissions... As of today, the situation looks like a mass falsification system has been already prepared for the presidential ballot," Siuchyk noted. JM

BELARUSIAN SCHOLAR SENTENCED TO EIGHT YEARS FOR BRIBE-TAKING

A military panel of the Belarusian Supreme Court on 18 June sentenced Professor Yury Bandazheuski, former rector of the State Medical Institute in Homel, and his deputy Uladzimir Raukou to eight years in prison for taking bribes in exchange for college admission, Belarusian media reported. Bandazheuski, an eminent specialist in radiation, has repeatedly claimed that the case against him was connected to his frequent public criticism of the government's inadequate response to the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. JM

RUSSIA SUGGESTS EUROBONDS AS UKRAINE'S GAS DEBT REPAYMENT

Aleksandr Lebedev, head of the National Reserve Bank of Russia, said on 18 June that Ukraine could pay its gas debt to Russia via a Eurobond float with a 10-year maturity period and 7 percent return, Interfax reported. Lebedev made this comment after a meeting with Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh in Kyiv. "We would act as underwriters and would buy this debt, while the Russian budget would receive money, not state bonds with an ephemeral possibility of converting them into property," Lebedev noted. Lebedev said Kinakh reacted "well" to this proposal, adding that they agreed to set up a working group to discuss the possible Eurobond issue. JM

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX BELIEVERS TO STAGE ANTIPAPAL RALLY ON 21 JUNE

The Union of Orthodox Fraternities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is planning to hold a march in Kyiv on 21 June to protest Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine, Interfax reported on 18 June. Union leader Valentyn Lukyanyk said the march is expected to gather from 5,000-10,000 people. He added that following the march the union will decide on protest measures to be taken during the pope's visit, which will begin on 23 June. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES SEVERAL POLITICIANS OF CORRUPTION

Mykhaylo Brodskyy, the leader of the Yabluko parliamentary group, said on 18 June that former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, former Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko, former First Deputy Premier Anatoliy Holubchenko, Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, former National Bank Deputy Governor Volodymyr Bondar, and lawmaker Mykola Martynenko are guilty of corruption, Interfax reported. Brodskyy pledged to provide the Prosecutor-General's Office with documents confirming that this group of politicians "stole" $30 million from "the Ukrainian people." Pustovoytenko commented that there was no corruption in his cabinet, adding that "Mr. Brodskyy probably confused cabinets." JM

PRODI SEES ESTONIA AS FRONT-RUNNER AMONG EU CANDIDATES

Upon completion of the EU summit in Goteborg, European Commission (EC) President Romano Prodi and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen flew to Estonia, where they held talks on 18 June with the parliament's European affairs and foreign affairs committees, BNS reported. Prodi expressed his satisfaction with the Goteborg summit, which fixed the end of 2002 as the target date for completing the EU accession talks with front-running candidates so they can take part in the European Parliament elections in 2004. He said that there is no reason why Estonia should not be among the front-runners in the upcoming round of EU expansion. Prodi mentioned that the EC has approved Estonia's SAPARD (Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development) program allocating 12 million euros ($10.7 million) for its farmers. The two EU leaders also lunched with President Lennart Meri. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITS AUSTRIA

Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 18 June, the second day of her four-day visit to Austria, discussed with Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner Latvian-Austrian relations and Latvia's successful efforts to catch up with the first group of EU candidates, who started negotiations two years earlier, BNS reported. The president's husband, Imants Freibergs, the president of the Latvian Information and Telecommunications Technology Association, spoke about the recently established telecommunications cluster and Ferrero-Waldner offered to share with Latvia Austria's experience in this field. Vike-Freiberga also met with Simon Wiesenthal, the 92-year-old author after whom the Jewish human rights organization is named. She gave him a recently published Latvian-language edition of his book, "The Sunflower." Vike-Freiberga was scheduled to meet with Vice Chancellor of Austria Erhard Busek and give an interview to the newspaper "Die Presse" on 19 June. SG

SIX LITHUANIAN MINISTERS SUBMIT RESIGNATIONS

During a meeting of the ruling coalition's Political Coordinating Committee on 18 June, New Union (Social Liberals) Chairman Arturas Paulauskas called on Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas to resign, ELTA reported. A week earlier the coalition established five work groups to form a common position on important issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2001), but the group dealing with the privatization of Lithuanian Gas failed to reach an agreement. After Paksas refused to resign, the six ministers -- Antanas Valionis (Foreign Affairs), Vilija Blinkeviciute (Social Security and Labor), Romualdas Dobrovolskis (Health), Kestutis Kristinaitis (Agriculture), Algirdas Monkevicius (Education and Culture), and Vytautas Markevicius (Interior) -- who had been delegated by the New Union submitted their resignations. According to the constitution, the government needs to receive the approval of the parliament if more than half of the cabinet is changed. President Valdas Adamkus, who received an honorary doctorate degree from DePaul University in Chicago on 17 June, is hurrying back to Vilnius to attempt to settle the crisis. SG

POLAND, GERMANY DISAGREE OVER EU LABOR MOVEMENT RESTRICTION

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met in Frankfurt an der Oder on 18 June to discuss bilateral issues as well as problems connected with Poland's access to the EU, Polish media reported. Poland opposes Germany's demand for a seven-year transition period for the free movement of labor following candidate countries' entrance to the EU. Schroeder said unemployment in German lands bordering Poland is running at 20 percent, adding that there are fears it will increase still further if Polish citizens are allowed to take up work in the areas. "I understand those fears and respect them, but I do not agree with their substance," Buzek responded, noting that the Polish-German controversy over the labor-movement issue might produce a "painful wound" in bilateral relations. JM

DASSAULT SAYS CZECH FIGHTER TENDER UNFAIR

A representative of the French firm Dassault Aviation on 18 June told CTK at the Paris Air Show that Dassault believes the Czech government's conditions in the tender for the purchase of fighter planes were so prepared as to favor in advance the British-Swedish BAE Systems-Saab consortium, which produces the Gripen. Dassault, which produces the Mirage 2000-5, was one of several aircraft makers that withdrew from the tender, leaving BAE Systems-Saab as the only bidder. Yves Robins, Dassault Aviation's vice president for international affairs, said it is the Czech Republic's "sovereign right" to make a decision to purchase the Gripen, and that decision must be respected. But in that case, he said, no international tender needed to be announced. MS

CZECH, AUSTRIAN TEMELIN OPPONENTS FILE COMPLAINTS WITH COURTS

A group of Czechs living near the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant have asked the Constitutional Court to strip the Czech utility company CEZ of permission to operate the plant, CTK reported on 18 June. The group said local residents were not consulted by the State Nuclear Safety Authority before the authority granted CEZ permission to operate Temelin. In Austria meanwhile, Josef Puehringer, governor of the Upper Austria region, on 18 June said the province he heads, along with those of Lower Austria and the Salzburg region, will file joint complaints with Czech courts and with the European Court of Justice against Temelin. Also on 18 June, Austrian activists said they might reconsider their plan to stage blockades at the Austrian-Czech border-crossing points if the government in Vienna cancels a scheduled public hearing on Temelin. The activists call the hearing "a farce." MS

CZECHS ARREST PRODUCERS OF NAZI UNIFORMS

Two men were arrested on 15 June in Liberec, northern Bohemia and in Kladno, central Bohemia, for making Nazi uniforms, CTK reported on 18 June, citing the daily "Pravo." A police spokeswoman told the daily that the two were probably motivated "more by profit than by sympathy for fascism." They had sold their wares in the Czech Republic, as well as in Germany and Austria for "several years," the spokeswoman said. The two are charged with supporting and propagating the ideology of a movement aimed at suppressing the rights of other people. MS

CZECH SPA TOWN GETS FIRST RABBI SINCE WWII

The Jewish community in the spa town of Karlovy Vary has appointed an Israeli to be the town's rabbi for the next five years, AP reported on 18 June, citing local community leader Alexandr Gajdos. Gajdos said that the local Jewish community has only 90 members, but many Jewish tourists visit the spa. The Jewish community in Karlovy Vary numbered several thousand people before World War II, but most of its members perished in the Holocaust. MS

SCHUSTER SAYS SLOVAKIA NEEDS 'LONG-TERM VISION'

President Rudolf Schuster, in an interview with the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 18 June, said the current Slovak government has achieved positive results in foreign policy but has fallen short of fulfilling expectations in domestic policy, TASR reported. Schuster said the government's failures are mainly due to conflicts within the ruling coalition and the fact that "priorities and strategic aims always change with changes of governments." This is why, the president added, Slovakia needs a "long-term vision," which should serve as its "state doctrine" regardless of what parties rule the country. MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS ACCESS TO CZECH LIST OF FALSE SCREENING CERTIFICATES

Defense Minister Jozef Stank on 18 June said Slovakia wants to have full access to the Czech lists of false screening certificates. Until that access is provided, Stank said, it is "meaningless" to mention names from the list of 15 Slovaks alleged to have received the certificates in 1991 and 1992. He also said obtaining the lists does not mean Slovakia is going to reintroduce lustration laws, but it will thus be able to ensure that no unauthorized persons have access to state secrets. He said to obtain the lists it might be necessary for an official agreement to be concluded between the Czech and Slovak governments. Stank said Defense Ministry State Secretary Ratislav Kancer has already discussed the matter with Czech Deputy Defense Minister Stefan Fuele and they will meet again to pursue it. MS

SOROS TO FOUND UNIVERSITY STUDY PROGRAM FOR ROMA...

International philanthropist George Soros on 18 June announced in Bratislava that his Open Society Institute (OSI) will launch a scholarship program for members of the Romany communities from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Serbia, Reuters reported. Soros said other countries may later be added to the program. The funds for scholarships for some 500 Romany university students from these countries were mainly obtained from gold recovered by the allied powers from the Nazis after World War II, Soros said, and the OSI will provide the rest of the money. MS

...AND CEASE FUNDING SLOVAKIA AFTER EU ACCESSION

Soros also announced in Bratislava that the OSI will cease funding Slovak nongovernmental organizations should the country gain EU membership, CTK reported. The same will apply to other former communist countries in the region following their possible accession to the EU. Soros said that Slovakia is "becoming a stable country, with good prospects of admission to the EU," but added that the "one remaining obstacle are next year's elections." After that ballot, he said, it will be clear whether Slovakia will continue on the path of reforms. He said that although he is aware of the fact that former Premier Vladimir Meciar has changed his position toward EU and NATO membership, he doubts Meciar will be able to meet the conditions for integration if he returns to power. MS

MORE BODIES OF DROWNED ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS RECOVERED IN SLOVAKIA

Seven bodies of illegal immigrants who drowned in the Morava River at the Slovak-Czech border last week have thus far been recovered, AP reported on 18 June. Ten members of the group are still missing and two survivors -- one from India and one from Sri Lanka -- were rescued (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2001). MS

HUNGARY DENIES IT SUPPORTS U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE SHIELD

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi denied earlier news reports that Budapest is in favor of U.S. President George W. Bush's missile defense shield proposal and warned against dividing NATO. Martonyi told Magyar ATV television on 18 June that enhancing defense capabilities to protect airspace "needs to be done together [by all NATO members], and in such a way as to avoid breaking up the unity of the alliance." He added that "if defense is divided, the alliance is divided, and there is no such thing as divided security." NATO countries must cooperate on the issue, and should include Russia in discussions, Martonyi concluded. MSZ

ROMANY FAMILY'S HOUSE SET ON FIRE IN HUNGARY

An unidentified person threw a Molotov cocktail into the house of a deputy of the Romany Authority in Hungary's eastern county of Hajdu-Bihar, causing burn injuries to two children, Hungarian media reported on 18 June. The Office of National and Ethnic Minorities expressed "shock" and condemned the incident, noting that "innocent children have fallen victim to a brutal act." Police have offered a 100,000 forint ($350) reward to anyone who gives information that leads to the arrest of the perpetrator. MSZ




U.S. SAYS MACEDONIA HAS NOT ASKED FOR NATO DEPLOYMENT

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 18 June that the Macedonian "cease-fire appears to be holding despite some low-level skirmishes... NATO and NATO countries...want to be very helpful to President [Boris] Trajkovski in terms of calming the situation, achieving peace, [and] reforming political processes. [In this context,] President Trajkovski said he was looking for the help of NATO or NATO countries to further assist in this matter including, as he put it, assistance in overseeing the voluntary disarmament [of the guerrillas]... President Trajkovski has not asked for deployments to conduct military operations in Macedonia," RFE/RL reported. Some NATO advance units are reportedly already in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2001). Many NATO leaders would like the alliance to take a more active role in Macedonia before matters get out of hand, but U.S. President George W. Bush wants to give political leaders more time to reach a settlement before seriously looking at military options (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 June 2001). PM

BUSH SAYS U.S., RUSSIA SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON MACEDONIA

President Bush said in Washington on 18 June: "I believe we can work with the Russians [in the Balkans]. We share the same interest, which is a stable Macedonia. A Macedonia that is fractured and where extremists are able to make headway will create instability in the region," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001). Asked if he agrees with Putin on the need to close the border between Macedonia and Kosova, Bush replied: "We strongly believe we need to cut off the border. As a matter of fact, our troops who participate in [NATO-led peacekeeping forces] are doing just that." NATO peacekeepers have repeatedly said that they are doing all that they can given the difficulty of the terrain in question. Moscow, Belgrade, and Skopje frequently charge that NATO is not doing enough to control the border. PM

DOES SERBIA WANT MORE WEAPONS?

Dejan Sahovic, Belgrade's ambassador to the UN, told the BBC's Serbian Service on 19 June that he is working to persuade the UN to lift the arms embargo on his country. He argued that it is time to lift the one remaining major sanction on Serbia (as opposed to sanctions on the former ruling elite) as a sign of confidence in the "democratic authorities" in Belgrade. Russia and China support his proposal. Observers note that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica for months justified his reluctance to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal by saying that his government has far more pressing tasks that consume valuable time. It is not clear just why his government is now willing to devote time to getting the UN arms embargo lifted. PM

SERBIA OPENS POLICE FILES

On 18 June, the authorities began allowing citizens access to their files compiled by the State Security department, AP reported. Citizens may make an appointment to view the documents but not copy or remove them. The authorities are also taking steps to return to daily and weekly publications and to independent broadcasters some $163,000 that the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic collected from them in fines designed to intimidate or bankrupt them. PM

SERB SENTENCED IN RECAK MURDERS

The Prishtina District Court has sentenced Zoran Stanojevic, a former policeman, to 15 years in prison in connection with the killing of civilians in Recak in 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

UN TEAM WRAPS UP BALKAN 'FACT-FINDING' MISSION

Visitors from the UN Security Council met Serbian leaders in Belgrade on 18 June after spending the weekend in Kosova. UN Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, of Bangladesh, said that more must be done to improve the security situation in Kosova, Reuters reported. He nonetheless expressed appreciation for the achievements of the UN administration in Kosova in providing security. PM

BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT ESCAPES PRISON

Veselin Vlahovic, a Montenegrin serving a three-year sentence in Montenegro's Spuz prison for robbery and violent behavior, escaped on 18 June, AP reported. The authorities are holding four prison guards suspected of complicity in the escape. The Bosnian authorities are investigating Vlahovic for the "murder and torture" of an unspecified number of Muslims in the Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica during the 1992-1995 war. Montenegro has turned down Bosnian requests for his extradition on the grounds that Yugoslav law does not permit the extradition of Yugoslav citizens. PM

SERBIAN CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS STAGE WALK-OUT IN VUKOVAR

The eight council members belonging to the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS) walked out of the Vukovar City Council on 18 June after Croatian deputies belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP), and Democratic Center (DC) elected HDZ and HSP members to fill top city jobs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Serbs claimed they had been unfairly excluded even though theirs is the second-strongest party in the council. PM

CROATIAN CONSERVATIVES WIN IN ZADAR VOTE

The HDZ won 13 out of 27 City Council seats in local elections in Zadar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 June. The independent Stanislav Antic List took 10 seats. In Zagreb, Ivo Sanader, who heads the HDZ, said that his party is willing to work with any and all parties except the Social Democrats and Croatian People's Party. PM

CROATIAN WAR TOLL PUBLISHED

Some 20,091 people died in the 1991-1995 war in Croatia, of whom 14,433 were Croats, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 June, quoting the Rijeka daily "Novi List." Some 1,658 individuals, who are most likely dead, are still officially listed as missing. PM

CROATS, SLOVENES MARK 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE

Many of the leaders of the Croatian and Slovenian movements for independence in 1991 met in Zagreb on 18 June for a roundtable discussion, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported. Croatian participants included President Stipe Mesic, former General Martin Spegelj, former Foreign Minister Mate Granic, and former Interior Minister Josip Boljkovac. The Slovenian delegation included former Defense Minister Janez Jansa, Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, and former Interior Minister Igor Bavcar. Mesic said that Milosevic deprived foreign leaders of any illusions that former Yugoslavia could be preserved, because his policy was clearly that of creating a Greater Serbia. PM

ROMANIA DENIES BREAKING ARMS EMBARGO ON IRAQ

Romanian officials on 18 June denied Bucharest has broken the UN sanctions against armament exports to Iraq, Mediafax reported. Dragos Tocac, deputy director of the National Agency for the Control of Strategic Exports and Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the agency has authorized no exports to Iraq since the embargo was imposed in 1990. A report in "The New York Times" on that day said Romania, as well as Belarus and Ukraine, continued supplying Iraq with weapons or spare parts long after the embargo was instituted. Tocac said the accusations were "very serious and grave," but that he "does not believe they are founded." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WRITES BUSH

Ion Iliescu, in a letter to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush released to the media on 18 June, welcomed Bush's recent announcement that NATO will continue expanding at its 2002 summit and said Romania will continue and intensify efforts to reform its army and bring it in line with NATO standards. Iliescu said Romania's "strategic importance" as the second-largest country in Southeastern Europe must be taken into account when the enlargement decision is made, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 18 June, Iliescu said he welcomed the Goteborg EU summit decisions, adding that while at the summit he expressed "the firm will of Romania's government and society to overcome retardation" and open negotiations on all the chapters of the aquis communautaire by the end of 2002. Finally, reacting to the Bulgarian election's results, Iliescu said that they are "sociologically comparable to those in Moldova -- "also a surprise produced by voters who rejected the former administration." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER 'ASSUMES CABINET RESPONSIBILITY' ON INVESTMENT LAW...

Using the "assumption of responsibility" procedure, Nastase on 19 June presented in the parliament the bill promoting direct foreign investments, Romanian Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001). Greater Romania Party (PRM) parliamentary group leader Augustin Bolcas said the cabinet "has assumed responsibility for a bad law constructed on imaginative grounds," but added that the PRM has yet to decide whether to move a no-confidence motion. Unless such a motion is submitted within three days, the assumption of responsibility procedure stipulates that the bill will be regarded as having been approved by the parliament. MS

...ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT OF DEBT DISPUTE WITH SWEDEN...

Premier Nastase announced on 18 June that his government has reached an agreement with the Swedish government on settling a debt dating back to 1922-1934, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the compromise, Romania agreed to pay Sweden a total of $120 million in compensation for bonds issued by Romania's interwar government, an unserviced $28 million debt for a loan granted by Sweden to Romania in 1929, and for Swedish properties nationalized by the communists. Successive Swedish governments had previously said the debt and interest on it amounted to $3-4 billion. Nastase said the debt will be liquidated by the end of 2002 and that, if Romania pays one-quarter of the sum this year, the budget will have to be adjusted. MS

...SAYS NO CHANGE IN TV BOARD OF ADMINISTRATION

Nastase also announced that the leadership of his ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) decided on 18 June not to pursue replacing the current board of administration of Romanian television, whose mandate runs out next year. He said the PSD does not want the replacement to be perceived as "politically motivated" but added that the party's leadership has yet to discuss what position to take toward the radio's board of administration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2001). MS

RUSSIA, TRANSDNIESTER TO SCRAP AMMUNITION DEPOTS

Russian Deputy Defense Minister General Vladimir Isakov and separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 15 June signed an agreement to destroy hundreds of tons of ammunitions left over from the Soviet era, some of which date as far back as the World War II, Infotag and dpa reported. Part of that arsenal is to be converted into saleable metals and commercial explosives. The OSCE cosigned the agreement and will finance the project. Russia has justified its continued military presence in the region by the need for its 2,000-strong contingent to guard the ammunitions, but observers are skeptical that their liquidation will accelerate the withdrawal of the troops in line with the 1999 OSCE summit decision. Smirnov expressed satisfaction that the agreement stipulates that the Transdniester authorities will be compensated for the armaments about to be scrapped. MS

MOLDOVAN EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTIES MERGE, SPLIT

The National Liberal Party, the Party of Civic Dignity, the New National Moldovan Party, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and the Party of Social Order and Justice on 18 June said they will merge at a joint congress to be held on 8 July or one week later, Infotag reported. The Party of Democratic Forces (PDF) and the National Romanian Party are also to merge at a congress scheduled for 22 July. The new formation is to be also joined by a wing of the Popular Party Christian Democratic headed by Valentin Dolganiuc. The PDF also announced that negotiations are continuing for merger with the Party of Revival and Conciliation headed by former President Mircea Snegur. Meanwhile, however, a group of 23 PDF members headed by Vasile Nedelciuc left the PDF on 17 June, saying PDF leader Valeriu Matei is "trying to perpetuate forever" his leadership of the formation. MS

COMMUNISTS WIN MAIN MOLDOVAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) candidate Vasile Panciuc was elected mayor of Balti, Moldova's second-largest town, in the partial local elections held in several Moldovan localities on 17 June, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. PCM candidates were also elected as mayors in Ocnita and in Chetrosu, a village in Chisinau County. An Agrarian Democratic Party candidate won the elections in a village in Lapusna County and a Social Democratic Party candidate was elected mayor of a village in Balti County. Two villages will now have independent mayors, and in four other localities the ballot is to be repeated on 1 July due to voter turnout of less than 50 percent. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS DRAFT BILL ON ELECTRONIC MEDIA INDEPENDENCE

The parliament on 15 June rejected a draft bill submitted by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to transform the Teleradio-Moldova state company into a public broadcasting authority, Infotag reported. The bill proposed that the authority be headed by a 12-member board that would appoint its chairman independently of the government. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR COALITION

Following the release of nearly complete results of the 17 June parliamentary elections, President Petar Stoyanov called on the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) to set up a coalition government even if it can rule alone, BTA reported (see "End Note" below). Stoyanov said the NDSV should not "repeat the mistakes of the two previous absolute majorities in the Bulgarian parliament," but should use the experience of other parties to rule the country (it later turned out that the NDSV just missed the absolute majority). Stoyanov said the NDSV "deserves congratulations" due to its having given assurances when the results came in that it will "respect the past achievements and build on the firm foundations laid in the last four years." MS

WILL HE OR WILL HE NOT: WHAT ROLE FOR SIMEON NOW?

Former King Simeon II on 18 June said he will "take his time" and "consider things very carefully" before deciding with whom to form a coalition, Reuters reported. Nikolai Vasiliev, head of the NDSV economic team, said the "basic question" now is for Simeon to decide whether to head the new cabinet himself or not. The chances that he will become premier or "remain behind the scenes," Vasiliev added, "are about equal." According to AFP, Vasiliev, aged 31, is tipped as Bulgaria's next finance minister. He told that agency on 18 June that the NDSV's reforms will be "more radical and go further" than the reforms implemented by the United Democratic Forces coalition. Vladimir Karolev, also a member of the NDSV economic team, said no "shock therapy" policy is envisaged. "There is just the need for continuity, but we need to be more focused," he said. MS

EU URGES BULGARIA TO STAY ON REFORM PATH

The European Commission on 18 June said it hopes Bulgaria will stay on the path of economic reform after the general elections, Reuters reported. Speaking on behalf of Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said the commission hopes Bulgaria "maintains and even accelerates" the pace of reforms necessary for its EU integration. Asked by journalists whether a restoration of the monarchy could affect Bulgaria's candidacy, Filori replied: "There are monarchies among [EU] member states, and they are as respectable as republics." In other news, Euro-Left leader Alexander Tomov, whose party did not pass the 4 percent electoral hurdle, on 18 June told BTA he will resign. MS




THE PROOF OF THE FETA AND THE BULGARIAN ELECTORAL OUTCOME


By Michael Shafir

With nearly all votes counted in the Bulgarian parliamentary elections of 17 June, the landslide that pollsters have been predicting for the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) is now confirmed.

The NDSV is only one seat short of an absolute majority in the legislature, having 120 seats in the 240-member parliament. It has garnered (with 99.87 percent of votes counted) 43.05 percent, but the redistribution of votes cast for parties that did not make the 4 percent electoral hurdle always works to the advantage of the larger formations that gain parliamentary representation.

That the movement headed by Simeon has failed to gain an absolute majority may well be due to the confusion created by the participation in the elections of a formation calling itself Coalition for Simeon II, which managed to garner about 3.5 percent of the vote. Simeon complained during the electoral campaign that the coalition had been established precisely in order to produce that effect. According to reports, some Bulgarians, particularly among those voting abroad, may well have cast their ballot in favor of the coalition, believing they were voting for the NDSV.

Even so, the maverick political formation set up by the former Bulgarian monarch only two months earlier should have no serious difficulty in setting up a coalition if it cannot rule alone. In fact, Simeon announced as soon as the electoral outcome began to take shape that the party wishes to rule in partnership with like-minded formations.

The question is: which formations could fill that role? The most obvious candidate, of course, is the main loser of the ballot, the United Democratic Forces (ODS) alliance. With a likely representation of 51 deputies in the parliament and a tally of 18.24 percent in the ballot, the ODS is indeed the "natural" partner for the NDSV, with which it shares both economic and foreign policy outlooks. But for this to happen, the ODS must now overcome not only its hurt pride, but also the danger of a further loss of credibility. The alliance had done its very best to discredit the NDSV, whose program it attacked as "populist" and "unrealistic." What is more, it must do so while still believing in the justness of those judgments. The likely solution rests in the political departure, at least for some time, of outgoing Premier Ivan Kostov. Kostov has already hinted that he intends to resign as chairman of the ODS's most important component, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). He was also candid enough to admit that "many mistakes" were committed by his government in its pursuit of strict fiscal and financial discipline and harsh privatization that left many people jobless. The Bulgarian people, he said, had administered retribution for those mistakes because they were "unwilling to pay the price" of the high social costs involved. Voters, in general, do not look at macroeconomic figures. Rather, they look into their pockets, and the NDSV promised to fill those in record time while staying the course of reform. Balkan fairy tales can be very attractive.

A likely successor for Kostov at the head of the SDS is Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyansky, who was clearly distancing himself from Kostov during the electoral campaign. During the last few days of the campaign, Sofiyansky had already advocated a post-electoral coalition with the NDSV, which Kostov ruled out. The outgoing premier is warning even more against a possible "grand coalition" that would also include the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), saying that, as in neighboring Macedonia, this would "leave in the opposition only the people."

But even President Petar Stoyanov, a critic of the NDSV, now seems eager to promote a coalition of the ODS and the former monarch's movement. "Even if you have the chance to govern on your own," Stoyanov advised the NDSV after its victory, "it is better to make use of the achievements, the know-how and experience of other political parties."

The BSP has also declared its readiness to enter into coalition parleys with the victors, but this is less likely to happen. The "price" demanded by the BSP -- Kostov's political head and assurances that Bulgaria will remain a republic -- may not be high, but with a probable parliamentary representation of 48 deputies (17.35 percent of the ballot) there is little the BSP can offer to outbid the ODS, and a lot still speaks against its being of one mind with the NDSV.

Finally, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) can step in even if parleys with both the ODS and the BSP fail. Despite predictions that it might fail to pass the electoral hurdle this time around and gain representation, the DPS -- apparently also due to support from votes cast in Turkey -- managed to garner over 6 percent and is likely to be represented by some 21 deputies.

The real problems of Bulgaria are only beginning, however. Having outvoted a government that, for all its failures, brought Bulgaria from economic catastrophe and international lack of credibility to a 5.8 percent GDP growth and closer to EU and NATO membership than anyone could have dared hope, its citizens may soon find out that the country's problems will not be solved "within 800 days," as promised by the former monarch.

Protest voting, combined with the attraction of charisma, has done away with Bulgaria's largely bipolar post-communist system. No one knows, however, what it has replaced it with. The proof of the feta will rest in its eating. But who will now produce the cheese is still a mystery.


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